The Boston Irish: A Political History

Thomas H. O'Connor, Author
Thomas H. O'Connor, Author Northeastern University Press $30 (288p) ISBN 978-1-55553-220-8
Reviewed on: 05/01/1995
Release date: 05/01/1995
Paperback - 363 pages - 978-0-316-62661-3
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The first Irish to arrive in Boston, in the early 18th century, were Protestants from Ulster and were thought of by the local gentry as ``members of a barbaric, inferior, and unmanageable race.'' By the time of the potato famine of the 1840s, these Protestant Irish had assimilated into the population and thought much the same about the new Irish, overwhelmingly Catholic, who emigrated to avoid starvation. In 1847 alone, Boston was inundated with 37,000 immigrants and the locals were appalled by the newcomers' unsanitary practices, indolence and propensity for drink. Like California's recent Proposition 187, the prejudice shibboleth of that time read, ``No Irish Need Apply,'' and in 1854, the Know-Nothing Party of Massachusetts promised to eliminate ``Rome, Rum, and Robbery.'' But with the urging of Boston Bishop Fitzpatrick, Irish Catholics learned to fight bigotry with the ballot. We are introduced to the featured players: Hugh O'Brien, the first Irish-born mayor of Boston; John F. Fitzgerald and Patrick J. Kennedy, ward bosses and the grandfathers of JFK; James Michael Curley, mayor, congressman, governor and prominent rogue; and John F. Kennedy, who completed the cycle of Irish political hegemony when he defeated Brahmin Henry Cabot Lodge for senator in 1952. Viewing the Irish from the coffin ships of the famine years to the lace-curtain attitudes of today, O'Connor (South Boston, My Home Town) has written a scholarly yet colorful account of a breed he convinces us is vanishing. Photos not seen by PW. (May)
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